When I got pregnant, I found out pretty soon… actually, before I even missed my period. I did a quick little pee-stick test and it had a faint line. At first I thought it was probably just a mistake. Then I realized there are no mistakes when the line IS there because the line represents hormones that are only present IF you are pregnant. You don’t get false positives… only false negatives. Over the next week the line grew and grew in intensity.
At first, I was in disbelief. After 25 years of being sexually active, I had NEVER had a pregnancy scare. Either I was really good at not getting pregnant because I really, truly, did NOT want to be pregnant before or… I was infertile. I never really knew which. But over the next few days of this faint line growing, I became more and more convinced that I was pregnant. Regardless of the line, there were changes going on in my brain and body that I could feel. The first thing that I felt was this incredible feeling of calmness. It took over my body. It was amazing. I had only felt this intense calmness two other times in my life. The first was when I started taking anti-anxiety medication in 2001. The second was after my first 10-day silent meditation course in 2007. Both were unreal. So was this.
I realized that this calmness was largely a function of lacking my ever-present upset stomach that I feel when anxious… which is often enough to be something. But with this (early) pregnancy I felt calm, nothing was unsettled in my stomach. Perhaps that was because I had a new purpose, as if I had nothing to be anxious about. I have often resonated with the idea of existential anxiety — that we all strive to be something and have hidden anxiety when we realize we are nothing. And/or, the anxiety of striving. When striving in a career and in business there is always something to be anxious about. Then again, my type of personality always has something to be anxious about. I’m way too future-oriented, which, from a mindfulness perspective, is very anxiety-provoking. But I live in the future and in the future’s anxiety. No time for regret. No time for the past. Or… it’s the opposite to the depression that some people have described as manifesting as PMS because we experience the grief of the loss of a childbearing opportunity every month that goes by and pregnancy is not achieved. Or, this newfound calmness might very well also have been because of my changing hormones.
During the menstrual cycle, estrogen starts to rise just before we ovulate. Then, progesterone also starts to rise to maintain the lining of the uterus, in preparation for implantation of a fertilized egg. If the egg is not fertilized or does not implant, the lining is shed, women menstruate, and the hormones drop back down again. But… if we conceive and the fertilized egg implants, then our progesterone and estrogen continue to rise. And they rise a lot over then entire 40 weeks of a typical pregnancy. The other hormone that rises in the first trimester, is human chorionic gonadotropin. That’s the hormone that maintains the pregnancy during the first trimester until the placenta has formed. It’s also the hormone that many people think is responsible for morning sickness (which is not just in the morning for many of us!!). That hormone is also what is detected in the pee stick test! And if you have twins, you have a lot more of that hormone, which was one excitement (IN RETROSPECT THIS SHOULD HAVE BEEN FEAR!!!) of mine during the early phases of seeing that hormone present so early!
Estrogen is an interesting hormone. Actually, all female hormones are interesting IMO because they affect so many behaviours including spatial behaviour, verbal behaviour, memory, and even anxiety and depression. Related to this topic is that estrogen is known to provide anxiolytic effects, i.e., it’s like an anti-anxiety medication. I have known this for many years, having been interested in sex differences and hormonal influences on behaviour for quite some time as a bench neuroscientist. But, as per usual, it was particularly interesting to experience it first hand!